City guides

Kid-friendly day trips from Chicago

Unearth the magic of family adventures as you step out of the Windy City's confines.

September 19, 2023
 min read
Last updated:
Jan 12
A view of the Chicago skyline, with the Chicago river in the foreground.

Chicago, a city of architectural marvels and vibrant culture, often leaves families yearning for a change of scenery. While the city's charm is undeniable, the allure of nearby attractions is equally compelling. Here's a curated list of destinations that promise fun, adventure, and a whole lot of memories.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Imagine a place where nature's artistry is on full display. Starved Rock State Park, a mere drive away from Chicago, is that place. The park's unique canyons, formed by glacial meltwater, are a sight to behold. As you wander through its trails, you'll encounter glistening waterfalls that change with the seasons. In winter, they might freeze into ethereal ice sculptures, while in spring, they roar back to life. It's an outdoor classroom, where kids can learn about geology, ecology, and history firsthand, making it a perfect blend of education and recreation. 

Brookfield Zoo, Illinois

A world of wildlife awaits at Brookfield Zoo. Spanning over 200 acres, this zoo is home to over 2,000 animals. As you meander through its paths, you'll journey from the African savannahs to the dense rainforests of South America. The zoo's commitment to conservation and education shines through, with interactive exhibits designed to foster a love for the natural world. Children can watch in awe as dolphins perform acrobatics, or they can giggle at the antics of the meerkats. It's more than just a zoo; it's a place where curiosity meets conservation. 

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

The allure of sandy toes and sun-kissed noses is hard to resist. Indiana Dunes, located along the southern tip of Lake Michigan, offers just that and more. Its towering sand dunes, some reaching up to 200 feet, are a testament to nature's power and beauty. Families can indulge in a plethora of activities, from hiking and bird watching to simply lounging on the beach. The park also boasts rare habitats, making it a biodiversity hotspot. So, while the kids are busy building sandcastles, parents can soak in the serene beauty of this coastal gem. 

Peoria Riverfront Museum, Illinois

Museums have a way of transporting us to different worlds, and the Peoria Riverfront Museum is no exception. This modern institution seamlessly blends art, science, and history, ensuring there's something for everyone. The planetarium is a star attraction, quite literally, offering a celestial experience that's bound to captivate young astronomers. Interactive exhibits, from giant dinosaur skeletons to a high-definition theater, make learning a hands-on experience. It's a place where imagination takes flight, and every visit feels like a new adventure. 

Crystal Lake, Illinois

Crystal Lake, with its shimmering waters and serene ambiance, is the perfect antidote to city life. Located in the heart of Illinois, this lake offers families a chance to engage in a myriad of water activities. Whether it's kayaking, paddleboarding, or just a simple boat ride, the lake promises endless fun. The surrounding parks, with their well-maintained playgrounds and picnic spots, make for an ideal day out. As the sun sets, the lake transforms, reflecting the hues of the sky, making it a picturesque spot for some quiet reflection. <h2>Illinois Railway Museum, IL</h2> 

The rhythmic chug of a train is a sound many cherish, and at the Illinois Railway Museum, this nostalgia comes alive. Housing one of the largest collections of railway artifacts in the country, this museum is a journey through time. Kids can marvel at the majestic steam engines, learn about the evolution of rail travel, and even enjoy a ride on some of the historic trains. The museum's dedication to preserving this slice of history is evident, making it a must-visit for train enthusiasts of all ages. 

Blackberry Farm, Illinois

The rustic charm of Blackberry Farm is undeniable. This living history museum offers families a chance to step back in time and experience life in the 19th century. From horse-drawn carriage rides to blacksmithing demonstrations, it's a hands-on history lesson. Children can interact with farm animals, learn about old-school farming techniques, and even try their hand at traditional crafts. The farm, with its sprawling green meadows and tranquil ponds, is also a great place to unwind and reconnect with nature. 

Anderson Japanese Gardens, Illinois

A slice of Japan in Illinois, the Anderson Japanese Gardens is a testament to the timeless beauty of traditional Japanese landscapes. Designed with utmost precision, every element, from the koi-filled ponds to the stone lanterns, tells a story. Families can meander through its paths, discovering hidden nooks and crannies, each more beautiful than the last. The garden also hosts cultural events, giving visitors a chance to immerse themselves in Japanese traditions. It's a place of peace, reflection, and beauty, making it a must-visit. 

Rockford Art Museum, Illinois

Art has a way of speaking to the soul, and the Rockford Art Museum is a testament to this. Housing a diverse collection, from contemporary pieces to ancient artifacts, this museum is a visual treat. Children can participate in interactive sessions, allowing them to express their creativity and understand art better. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, ensuring there's always something new to explore. It's a space where creativity knows no bounds, and every visit leaves you inspired. 

Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois

While it's situated in the heart of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo feels worlds apart. This urban oasis, home to a diverse range of animals, offers a wild escape. The zoo's design ensures that the animals have ample space, replicating their natural habitats. From the African apes to the Arctic polar bears, every enclosure tells a story. The zoo also places a strong emphasis on conservation and education, making it a place of learning and fun.

Every journey, no matter how short, leaves an indelible mark on our souls. These destinations, each unique in its own right, promise experiences that will be cherished for a lifetime. So, buckle up, set that playlist, and embark on these adventures. The world outside Chicago is waiting to be explored. Safe travels!


*Prices fluctuate based on season and day of the week.

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